The first leg of the round the world flight will take me from Pittsburgh, PA, USA to Lelystad, Netherlands. Departing from Pittsburgh on May 6th, I will fly to Toronto to collect my friend Mike. Mike is another private pilot from the UK; we flew together at University, and then again on a trip to the Dakotas in 2015.
From Toronto, Mike and I will fly north through Canada to Iqaluit. From there, we shall turn east and cross to Greenland, Iceland, the Faeroe Islands, and finally the UK, arriving at Wick in Scotland. While the aircraft has the range to conduct this flight almost non-stop (via a more southern route), we plan to take our time and enjoy some of the stops along the way. The longest legs are less than half the range of the aircraft, even without using the ferry tank system, so we will have plenty of flexibility in terms of diversion. This is an important safety factor when crossing the north Atlantic, with volatile weather!
The north Atlantic presents a number of challenges, that are not faced to such an extent on other sections of the flight. The first is the fact that, even in mid-May, the weather can be wintry and highly changeable. Heavy cloud cover often lead to the need to fly IFR, and the low temperatures can mean that icing is a threat even at fairly low altitudes. The combination of these can lead to long waits on the ground for suitable weather to safely continue, as well as the need to turn back or make long diversions if conditions deteriorate en-route.
If the worst happens, and one is forced to put the aircraft down in the sea or on land, conditions are harsh and forbidding. Mike and I will both be wearing ocean survival suits and life-jackets with all the survival essentials we can practically pack in to them. The Winslow off-shore life-raft and ditching bag will be close at hand and top priority in the event of a ditching; these make a tremendous difference in survivability. Over 90% of ditchings are survived, with the occupants exiting the aircraft safely; but many then succumb to the elements before help arrives. This could take a long time in the north Atlantic, and we have no intention of being added to this tally should the worst occur.